Taiwan has redefined its rules of engagement with mainland Chinese forces, allowing its military to fire back in self-defence.
The announcement comes after People’s Liberation Army warplanes crossed a median line in the Taiwan Strait last week – apparently ignoring a tacit understanding between the two sides.
“In the face of high-frequency harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and warplanes recently … the military clearly redefined the contingency handling regulations concerning the first strike as our right to self-defence and counter attack,” the island’s defence ministry said on Monday.
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It said the island’s navy and the air force must follow guidelines that state there can be “no escalation of conflict and no triggering incidents” as well as “no provocation and no fear of the enemy” and the principle that “the closer [the enemy] approaches the island, the more active [the military must be] in dealing with it”.
The ministry stopped short of giving details about what a counter-attack would involve.
The Taipei-based Liberty Times newspaper, however, quoted unnamed military sources as saying that by clearly defining the “first strike” as the “right of self-defence [and] counter-attack”, Taiwanese forces on the front line would be able to fire if they determined that the enemy intended to attack.
The PLA’s latest activity coincided with the visit to Taiwan by US undersecretary of state Keith Krach, an action Beijing considers a breach of the one-China policy.
As well as warning Washington not to increase its official exchanges with Taiwan, Beijing announced another round of war games in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday and sent 18 warplanes into the island’s air defence identification zone the same day, followed by 19 on Friday.
Most of those planes crossed the median line in the strait that the two sides have tacitly understood to be an unofficial dividing line. The Taiwanese air force scrambled fighter jets and sent radio messages, telling the PLA planes that had already breached the median line to leave immediately.
The PLA pilots responded that “there is no median line”, according to Taiwanese media.
Last month, Taiwan and the mainland both maintained they would not strike first in engagements like this.
In Beijing on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: “Taiwan is an inseparable part of the Chinese territory. The so-called median line of the Taiwan Strait doesn’t exist.”
A Taiwanese military source said the defence ministry’s statement did not mean it would allow its forces to strike first when PLA warplanes or ships crossed the median line.
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“In addition to following all those guidelines and principles, our forces first need approval from their superiors before they could take any action,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Authorisation from the top is the most important part of the rule of engagement to avoid an accidental conflict from occurring.”
The source also said the military recently held a series of briefings for frontline air force pilots on the protocol for engaging enemy threats.
Chieh Chung, a national security researcher at the National Policy Foundation, a pro-Kuomintang opposition think tank, said a clearer definition of the first strike was needed for international propaganda purposes.
“That is to tell the international society that Taiwan will not make any provocative moves and all Taiwanese actions will be self-defence and counter-attacking,” he said.
“At the same time, it’s also meant to clearly tell our forces on the front line not to be rash and provocative.”
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This article Taiwan military to allow forces to fire back after mainland Chinese air incursions first appeared on South China Morning Post